The Vikings' Defensive Depth Chart is Going to Look a Lot Different in 2021

The Vikings might have as many as nine different starters this fall compared to last December.
Publish date:

After a disappointing season from their usually-stout defense, the Vikings have loaded up on that side of the ball in free agency. Mike Zimmer was dejected by that unit's performance in 2020, but he's feeling rejuvenated these days by the new faces the team has added and the process of working with his coaching staff to make some schematic changes.

Read: Mike Zimmer is Fired Up About the Vikings' New-Look Defense

Combine the signings of five potential starters with the return of three players who missed all of last season — and another who missed the final month — and the Vikings might have as many as nine new faces in their defensive starting lineup in Week 1 of this year compared to some of their biggest letdown games last December.

Take Week 16 against the Saints, for example. The Vikings had just lost a crucial home game to the Bears, but their playoff chances weren't dead yet. If they could beat the Saints in New Orleans on Christmas Day and have a couple other results go their way, they'd still be alive.

Of course, that didn't happen, as Alvin Kamara ran for six touchdowns in a humiliating 52-33 beatdown.

Here's what the Vikings' defense looked like in that game, based on who played the most snaps.

  • DE: D.J. Wonnum/Eddie Yarbrough
  • DT: Shamar Stephen
  • DT: Jaleel Johnson/Armon Watts
  • DE: Hercules Mata'afa/Ifeadi Odenigbo
  • LB: Eric Wilson
  • LB: Blake Lynch
  • LB: Hardy Nickerson
  • CB: Jeff Gladney
  • CB: Cameron Dantzler
  • CB: Chris Jones/Harrison Hand
  • S: Harrison Smith
  • S: Anthony Harris

And here's what the Vikings' projected defense looks like this year for Week 1, with free agency still ongoing and an entire draft class to be added.

  • DE: Danielle Hunter
  • DT: Michael Pierce/Armon Watts
  • DT: Dalvin Tomlinson
  • DE: Stephen Weatherly/D.J. Wonnum
  • LB: Eric Kendricks
  • LB: Anthony Barr
  • LB: Nick Vigil/Troy Dye
  • CB: Patrick Peterson/Mike Hughes
  • CB: Cameron Dantzler
  • CB: Mackensie Alexander/Jeff Gladney
  • S: Harrison Smith
  • S: Xavier Woods

The only starters from last December who are expected to remain starters this season? Smith and Dantzler.

Harris was replaced by the younger Woods, which saved the Vikings some money and could potentially be an upgrade. Peterson and Alexander were added to give the cornerback room some much-needed veterans. Vigil replaces Wilson (for now) as the No. 3 linebacker. Barr and Kendricks are back from injury, as is Hunter. Pierce is back from opting out and joins Tomlinson, the team's marquee free agency addition. Weatherly is back to take Odenigbo's spot.

The Vikings still need another edge rusher, as I'm not completely sold on Weatherly and Wonnum giving them enough production opposite Hunter. Adding another pass rusher would give them someone who can come in on third downs in pressure packages.

But with that said, this defense looks like it has a great chance to get back to being a top-ten, if not a top-five unit in the NFL. It's going to look nothing like the defense that was ripped to shreds by the Saints in front of the whole country on Christmas.

Thanks for reading. Make sure to bookmark this site and check back daily for the latest Vikings news and analysis all offseason long. Also, follow me on Twitter and feel free to ask me any questions on there.